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How will data collected from smart meters help us?

Posted by Jason Ramsdale on 20 January 2017 at 11:50 am

The smart grid revolution is coming, whether you like it or not. With smart meters due in every home by 2020 some of us may be wondering why all this data needed, who will benefit and what risks come with it? We've tried to answer some of these kinds of questions in this blog.

What is in it for you?

  • Convenience, no manual meter readings are needed
  • Smart meters could lead to smart appliances e.g. a washing machine where you preload your laundry then it washes during spikes in power using cheap electricity, helping load management and returning cost benefits for you
  • Smart meters enable time of use tariffs which could lead to appliances with built in batteries for TVs and fridges to take advantage of cheap off-peak electricity
  • Energy companies and energy saving advice services would, with your permission, be able to provide detailed and personal advise on your electricity use.

What is in it for energy companies and governments?

  • Allows real-time and predictive load management
  • Policing. If the police have access to the data it could be used to identify potential crimes such as growing cannabis

What is in it for everyone?

  • Accurate billing with continuous meter readings
  • Cheating and fraud easier to locate, helping to keep bills down for everyone else
  • Better load management can allow for more integration of green technology such as solar and wind
  • More data will allow investors to better identify where more capacity and energy storage is needed

Potential issues:

A potential privacy concern is that energy companies could learn your routine, know when you shower, when you wash clothes, when you go to bed and when you leave your home. But providing this data is secure, encrypted and not publicly available, does this really matter? You’re just one of many, and a nosey neighbour could probably figure this out anyway if they wanted to. The data doesn’t have to have the name/address transmitted or stored with it, your name and address could be kept in a separate offline look up table to keep your identity safe. This way, if your data was intercepted and a hacker did manage to decrypt it, which is highly unlikely, it would still be anonymous.

Other concerns include whether this level of information could lead to control and regulation of electricity use. Could a company decide to turn your heating or air conditioning down, rather like something from George Orwell's 1984? And the answer is... probably not. Although the Big Brother potential of a smart grid could have some helpful opt-in services. This could be as simple as managing your heating while you are away, perhaps co-ordinating with your phone and diary to heat the home ready for your return. Less conventionally, the real-time data might highlight breaks in routine power use and identify that an elderly person could have had a fall and automatically schedule a check-up.

Who would ensure that the energy company is sticking to the rules?

In the UK there would be third party regulation and oversight. Both Ofcom and Ofgen are likely to be involved in enforcing protective government legislation on how your data would be collected, used and shared.

Questions I would want to ask my smart meter provider:

  • Who will own and who will have access to my data?
  • Who could sell my data? Data can be worth a lot of money, just ask Google! Will sharing my data guarantee me a discount?
  • Who will keep my data, where will they keep it and how long for?
  • How much will it cost to store everyone's data and who will pay it?
  • Will I have a choice about this as to whether the data is transmitted continuously or in batches?
  • If real-time tariffs become available, will I be able to see real-time wholesale electricity costs?

It appears that many of the smart meters which are being installed now, not only can’t cope with microgeneration, but actually aren’t that ‘smart’ at all and will require replacing before 2020.1

Conclusions

We are still in the early days of the smart-grid revolution but one thing is already becoming clear; whatever technology and policies we choose to implement, they need to be clear and reliable. With transparency comes trust. Companies will need to educate their customers on how they will handle and use their data and what security measures will be taken to protect their privacy. If companies want more access to our data then they'll need to seek our permission and to build trust they will need to explain what they want, why they want it, and what is in it for us?
 

Image: Big brother by glasseyes view.

Related Blogs

1. Early energy supplier 'smart' meter incompatible with solar PV?

How smart are smart meters?

Concerns with the smart meters roll-out

Home energy management systems: the future or a passing fad?
 

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Comments

2 comments - read them below or add one

Malcolm M

Malcolm MComment left on: 1 February 2017 at 4:53 pm

My current supplier, British Gas, turned up at my house 3 months ago to fit smart meters as arranged with myself, only for the engineer to say he couldn't proceed once he learned I had solar PV. as their smart meters were unable to work correctly with such systems. The cost of the engineers wasted time will no doubt be be borne collectively by us customers.

I was sure I had informed the BG smart meter helpdesk that I had solar PV but the screening-out obviously did not work. I notice the current BG smart meter sign-up webpages and leaflets still make no reference to smart meter incompatibility with solar PV etc so I expect the same wasted costs are occurring again as I type.

Some suppliers clearly cannot make use of existing data to help save us, and themselves, money, and I'm not convinced their performance will improve once widespread  installation of smart meters has been achieved.

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Charles50

Charles50Comment left on: 21 January 2017 at 10:56 am

Thanks for sharing!

I didn't really like the idea of smart meters but now I see that actually there are more benefits and the potential issues don't really affect me too much (as long as the data about my routine is encrypted and safe).

 

Charles

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